College Sexual Assault Prevention: A Parent’s Guide

In recent months, there has been growing attention paid to the topic of sexual assault at U.S. colleges. In light of the increased focus, it’s understandable that parents would want to know more about the policies and practices that colleges have in place to address this issue.

Colleges typically provide new students with a handbook outlining their rights and responsibilities, as well as the school’s policies around sexual assault and other violations. Many schools publish these policies online and distribute printed handbooks during students’ first-year orientation. Some colleges require new students to take an online sexual assault awareness program, similar to online alcohol awareness programs, before they arrive on campus.

There are several places that colleges may provide this information on their website. Some schools include it in the “Resources” or the “Security” section under the “Student” and “Parent” tabs on the Home Page. Others may organize it under the “Health and Safety” portion on the “Student Life” page. And still others make the information available in the “Security” area of the “Campus Life” page. If you’re not able to locate the relevant links, you can call the college “Student Affairs” or “Student Life” office to ask them where to look on the website.

As a parent, I know that it isn’t easy to consider the subject of sexual assault when thinking about a child’s college experience. It’s certainly not a topic most of us want to discuss at length with our teen. Still, given the prevalence of campus sexual assault, it’s important to be informed about colleges’ policies and practices. Many of these will be clearly spelled out in the school's publications, but there are some specific questions parents may want to ask colleges:

  1. Do you provide mandatory bystander training to incoming students?
  2. Do you provide annual, mandatory Title IX training to staff, faculty, and administrators? Compassionate support training?
  3. Where do you publish your sexual assault policies and disciplinary hearing practices?
  4. Does your school have a 24-hour, year-round sexual assault hotline staffed by trained personnel?
  5. Does your school employ 24-hour, trained sexual assault staff to aid survivors? If so, how many?
  6. Does your school have a formal agreement between campus security and local law enforcement for handling sexual assault complaints?
  7. Does your school provide housing and course accommodations to survivors of sexual assault?
  8. Does your school have procedures to protect students wrongly accused of sexual assault?

The answers to these questions may offer families a more concrete understanding of how a college is addressing the issue of sexual assault. While administrators may not raise this issue on their own, they should be able to respond to questions that parents pose.

One last piece of advice: Given how sensitive this subject is, parents may want to reach out to the appropriate office when they’re apart from their child. It will probably be easier to speak freely with administrators if you’re not concerned about embarrassing or worrying your teen.